I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences with post-partum depression (here, here, and here), and I’ve received quite a few emails and messages from readers who have had experiences with all forms of depression and anxiety symptoms. I’ve hesitated writing what I’ve been doing lately – I’m doing a lot better, but as anyone who has struggled with depression knows, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for it all to go ‘bad’ again.
First, if you think you have some sort of depression, you should go talk to a doctor. I turned to google and researched the hell out of it before breaking down in tears at my doctor’s office when I couldn’t find a cure for myself. Why did I even go to the doctor? There was a point where I was constantly living in the ups and downs of emotional highs and lows. When I felt good, I felt great – life was great! Family was great! Nothing could go wrong! And then the next day I’d wake up and just not feel good, bickering with my husband, talking down to my loved ones, yelling at my children – I never was “suicidal”, I never wanted to cause physical pain to myself, but I would often think of how much happier my family would be without me. How they would be sad at first but they would survive without me. These weren’t good feelings to have, and I really couldn’t hold them in anymore.
Why did I wait so long to talk to a doctor? Because I didn’t want to be another statistic. Yet another person – another woman – on mood-altering drugs, on medication that is supposed to be temporary but ends up as a permanent way of life for people. I didn’t want to be “one of those”. But sometimes you can’t do it alone. Sometimes there are hormone imbalances at play and life becomes difficult. I know this now, and I know there is no shame in asking for help or admitting ‘defeat’. This is life. We can’t always do it all, nor should we.
I was put on low-dosage medication, and after a couple of months I went back and upped the prescription. My doctor’s main goal was my health, but that I would still feel like myself on medication, that I could be a good wife and mother and person in general, and we had spoken of a plan to get off the medication. He recommended summer as a good time but he ensured that there was never any deadline to remove the medication out of my system and that it would all depend on how I was doing.
After a few months on medication I felt better. I felt I could talk about my problems without the weird shameful feeling I always used to have. My overall intention was to eliminate the need for medication altogether, but I knew that it wasn’t time yet. So instead I researched. I read books and watched documentaries and read others’ experiences and talked to many, many people.
A book that intrigued me straight off the bat was ‘The Depression Cure‘, which intends to ‘beat depression without drugs’, but there were more books too: Vitamin Cure for Depression, Self-Coaching, and Mindfulness. The main goal of all these books is to use alternative methods to medication in combating depression, anxiety, panic attacks and the like. You might not like these books, and you might find other books more helpful, but it’s good to start somewhere and see what speaks to you. Another vital resource was Postpartum Progress, this website and the creator, Katherine Stone, who is also very helpful on her Twitter account, helped me immensely.
To get down to basics, a healthy lifestyle (eating well, ensuring you get vitamins, physical activity) mixed with social activity, enough sleep, and removal of perfectionists’ syndrome
7 Steps for Beating Depression & Anxiety Naturally
The first six steps are based on Stephen Ilardi’s book The Depression Cure, with my own information and links to research added.
- Vitamins, Vitamins, Vitamins. Specifically Omega-3 (in fish oil capsules), Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Folic Acid, and multi-vitamins. More and more research (here, here, and here) is proving that omega-3 supplements are very important to ensure the brain functions properly and can help reduce depression symptoms. More information about treating depression with supplements: here, here, here, here, and here.
- Natural Light. Try to get as much natural light as possible, most important is the first hour of the day. Open the blinds, take a walk outside, and even if it’s a cloudy day, you can benefit from the natural light. Read more about sunlight impacting your mood and biological clock, seasonal depression, and light therapy.
- Physical Activity. This could be scheduled workouts at a gym, yoga, outdoor activities such as hiking, golfing, paddle boarding, cleaning your house, dancing (even on the wii!), gardening or simply going for a walk. There are many reasons why exercise helps with depression and anxiety, mainly due to endorphins being released, but also because it takes your mind off of your problems. I even found a study that stated that vacuuming can really help with anxiety issues. My house is now usually very clean.
- Engaged Activity. This is similar to the above step except that it doesn’t have to be physical, it simply has to engage our minds and our bodies so we don’t have the time to think negative thoughts. Blogging, reading, writing letters or affirmations, meditating, having a cup of coffee with a neighbor, just doing things, preferably in social situations. To quote Stephen Ilardi: “The biggest risk factor for rumination is simply spending time alone, something Americans now do all the time. When you’re interacting with another person, your mind just doesn’t have a chance to dwell on repetitive negative thoughts. But, really, any sort of engaged activity can work to interrupt rumination.”
- Social Support. Discuss your issues and problems. Every single mother I talked to, who I previously feared speaking to because they seemed to always be happy and “have it together”, all – every. single. one. of. them. – have had experience with depression and/or anxiety. Some of them were even living similar lives to what I was at the same time. Speak to your partner about it, which I personally found difficult but I did it!, speak to your parents, your siblings, find online and in-real-life groups (there are many post-partum support groups in my small, small town, I’m sure in a larger city there would be many to choose from). Speaking about what you’re going through helps, as does speaking about anything and finding friendships in unlikely places. Even an off-topic gossip session will do you good.
- Sleep. There is a major link between depression and sleep problems, but not allowing your body and mind to be fully at rest can cause further anxiety and depression issues. My baby still doesn’t sleep through the night, but when I feel over-tired, I get to sleep earlier instead of staying up to watch tv and even napping when I can.
- Cut Yourself Some Slack. Perfectionism can be a disease that leads to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety problems. Nobody is expecting you to be perfect. Nobody is expecting you to have a full face of makeup, perfectly blown-out hair, a thin and strong body, the most stylish clothes and the cutest shoes, as well as be the perfect mother by making all-natural and organic meals for all, not allowing television or iPads as a form of entertainment, only allowing educational fun – and get all the laundry done, dishes clean, have the house spotless all. the. time., ensure your husband has delicious meals every night waiting for him when he gets home and be exciting in the bedroom in your impossibly sexy yet tasteful lingerie. HA. It’s okay to NOT be all or any of this. But isn’t this what housewives look like on tv? Isn’t this what my husband and kids expect? NO. No, no, no. I think your family will prefer a happy, mindful, and loving mother and wife, pajama pants be damned.
I want to provide you with a full disclosure. I am not a doctor, nor a therapist of any sort, or even a homeopath. I am not licensed in any health care facility, I do not know everything there is to know about vitamins or pharmaceuticals. This is a learning process for myself as well and I simply wanted to share what has been working for me at this point. This is what I’ve done for MYSELF, this does not mean that it will be right for you, and if you have any concerns I would recommend speaking to your health professional before embarking on anything that you feel might not suit you.
I posted this because I know how it is to feel helpless and overwhelmed by the aspects of a mental illness. Anxiety disorders, depression, ‘baby blues’ – these are all things that are difficult to speak about, or even put into words. Hormones and emotions overtake us and we’re not sure if we’re even thinking clearly – is it just a bad day? Is it just a passing mood? Or is it something that you deal with on an almost daily basis? Do you have days where you are happy and feeling well-adjusted, then days where you just feel like garbage and you have no idea why?
I’ve felt all of these. I’ve questioned myself. I’ve googled to my hearts desire. I spoke to my doctor. I went on medication. I researched some more. I took myself off of medication. I tried different things and am trying my best to stick to them.
I also want to note that it wasn’t UNTIL I got on medication that I could even begin to think clearly about my issues and problems, and what I could do to help myself. I am not advising you to get off medication against your doctor’s wishes. I am not advising to NOT go on medication – talk to your doctor, involve him in your thought process, allow him to understand any fears you may have about going on prescription medication.
These are simply my experiences and I am only hoping that someone can take something from it, to know that they are not alone and perhaps it can help them as well.